Changing Unwanted Behaviour & Token Economy Programmes

Changing Unwanted Behaviour & Token Economy Programmes

Changing unwanted behaviour

Aversion therapy can be used to prevent people from engaging in self-harming behaviour. Drug addicts and alcoholics, for example, may benefit from aversion therapy. This works by getting the addict to associate what they are addicted to with something unpleasant. Emetics are often used. An emetic is something which causes vomiting and can be mixed with alcohol. If the addict is conditioned to associate alcohol with the emetic his conditioned response would soon be to vomit every time alcohol touches his lips.

Ethical issues This process can be a terrible experience for the addict and may not even work in the long term. The therapist needs to judge the long term benefits against the short term unpleasantness.


Token economy programmes

These have been used in psychiatric units and prisons to encourage good behaviour. Tokens are awarded for good behaviour and can be traded for something desirable like access to the games or television room. The token needs to be given immediately so that a connection can be built between the action and the reward. Schools which use a merit or house point system are using a token economy programme. House points may be used to ‘purchase’ treats like a house trip or early release from class.

Ethical issues Some people may regard this as a rather patronizing way of going about things, especially where adults are involved. This approach may not be the best way of preparing people for the outside world, especially if they are part of an institution which is meant to be preparing its members for involvement in society. Critics of this approach may also believe that encouraging an internal desire to do the right thing is a better approach than ‘bribing’ people into certain types of behaviour.